Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tsui Hark's Dangerous Encounters: 1st Kind (1980)

Tsui Hark is an enigma. Arguably, Hong Kong cinema, in the last quarter of the twentieth century would not have been the same without him; and his presence in the first decade of the new millennium has not been completely welcome. A simple cursory glance at his filmography at the Internet Movie Database supports the former, while films like his own recent remake of Zu (2001) and Missing (2008) are examples of the latter. Then again, what does this white guy from the West know anyway?

It is indisputable that The Butterfly Murders (1979), We're Going to Eat You (1980), Dangerous Encounters: 1st Kind (1980), and Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) are bona fide masterpieces of the "new," post-Shaw Brothers Hong Kong cinema. I've watched each numerous times and will, more than likely, watch each a bunch more. Dangerous Encounters: 1st Kind is unique in a lot of respects; however, one stands out amongst all of Hark's filmography: he would never make a film like this again.

Dangerous Encounters stars Chi-lin Chen as Pearl. She's angry. She has a penchant for torturing animals (be warned; those scenes look genuine). She lives with her police-officer brother, Lo Lieh, in a crowded tenement building. Pearl's sick of her social worker and if a gun is left laying around, she'll point it at the screen. One night she witnesses three teenagers kill a pedestrian while joyriding and Pearl blackmails the reluctant three into a series of escalating terrorist acts.

To reveal any more would shave the edge off of this film. Pearl is seemingly a repellent character, but Hark balances the scenes. The viewer gets more than a glimpse of other facets of her life. The subject matter of the film is very dark, angry, and nasty, but Hark is able to interject an amazing amount of humor into it. The humor doesn't lighten the mood; it only makes it more disturbing. Only Hark can film dousing people with gasoline or a flubbed suicide pact in a humorous way. The film is shot in glorious wide screen with full effect. The ending is jaw-dropping.

The film was heavily censored at the time of its release in Hong Kong. The whole experience would be a turning point for Hark in his career. Likewise, Dangerous Encounters was quite the experience for me.

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